Taylor Tyrell was five years old when she learned she had cancer. Sitting in a dimly lit doctor’s office next to her parents and both of her grandmothers, all she could think about was pressing her head against the coolness of the glass window to relieve her pounding headache.
Tyrell was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that caused a tumor to press against her brain. She then went through chemotherapy, radiation and regular blood transfusions.
It has been nearly 14 years since Tyrell’s recovery. Now a freshman studying health and human sciences at USC, she still thinks about the blood she received and who it came from.
“I wondered whose blood I was receiving and I wondered what they were doing,” she said. “I have a part of a person inside of me, and it’s weird to think about, but also really nice that someone was willing to do that.”
Today, there is a national blood and platelet shortage. According to the American Red Cross donor turnout has reduced by 10%. The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage and is now entering record lows this holiday season. Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, said blood supply has dropped to the lowest it has been at this time of year since 2015.
The national blood shortage has Tyrell reflecting on when she received life-saving blood transfusions. She thinks that it is an issue that people don’t often think about because it doesn’t directly affect them.
“I think people would be more inclined to donate if it was at the forefront of their minds,” she said.
With a limited supply of blood, care professionals may have to make difficult decisions about prioritizing getting blood, if donations do not increase.
“There won’t be enough for everyone and so you have to pick and choose who is going to get it,” said Alexander Cobain, the biomedical services chair of Red Cross at USC. “Unfortunately, that’s the reality of things.”
He believes many people may have been deterred from donating during the pandemic since they did not want to congregate and risk contracting the COVID-19 virus.
“People may not feel comfortable coming out and actually donating because they have to physically go and donate,” Cobain said.
He also said there may be fewer blood donations due to early efforts to promote the slowing of the spread of the pandemic, which made it difficult to set up blood drives since congregating posed a risk of transmission.
And often these blood drives are where a lot of donations come from. Many of them are located on college campuses.
“College students are the gold standard for blood,” Cobain said.
He says this is due to the general age and health profile of students, making campuses an important donation site.
Although there is a shortage of blood, Cobain has remained hopeful. The Red Cross at USC was able to host its first blood drive in two years and met its goal to collect enough blood to save over 240 lives.
John Vidale, a dean’s professor of earth science, has been an avid donor for 30 years. He views the process as simple.
“I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it,” he said.
Vidale sees donating blood as a very minimal effort on his part that creates a big impact for others.
“It’s easy and it has very tangible benefits for society and it’s pretty relaxing,” he said.
The next American Red Cross at USC blood drive will be February 22 and 23. Cobain is urging anyone who can to roll up their sleeves to attend and donate.
“Donating blood is giving back to the community,” Cobain said.